mixed drinks and mixed messages adolescent girls perspectives on alcohol and heterosexual sexuality n.
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  1. Mixed Drinks and Mixed Messages: Adolescent Girls’ Perspectives on Alcohol and Heterosexual Sexuality Supplemental to Jennifer A. Livingston, Laina Y. Bay-Cheng, Amy L. Hequembourg, Maria Testa, and Julie S. Downs March 2013

  2. Purpose of Study • Qualitative study to investigate: • Examine adolescent females’ perceptions of the relation between alcohol use and sexual behavior • Identify gaps in their knowledge of alcohol-related sexual risk and in gaining insight into perceived motives or benefits associated with using alcohol in conjunction with sex • Identify and clarify common beliefs and misperceptions held by adolescent females regarding the intersection between alcohol and sexuality

  3. Risks and Statistics • During adolescence, young women are particularly vulnerable to a variety of serious sex-related dangers, including unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and sexual victimization • Young women ages 15 to 19 years-old report the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea among American women in all age groups (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010) • 42% of rapes in the United States are perpetrated against young women under the age of 18 years (Black et al., 2011) • Discussion: What are the risks associated with combining alcohol and sex?

  4. Risks of Combining Alcohol with Sexuality • Studies indicate that when alcohol consumption and sexual interactions coincide, the risks of negative sexual outcomes often increase • Risky partner choice and reduced discussion of protective behaviors (Cooper, 2002; Dunn et al., 2003) • Women’s alcohol use has been associated with sexual victimization • Discussion: To what extent are adolescent females aware of and how much do they understand these risks?

  5. Contradictory Cultural Messages • Gaining information about sex and sexuality in adolescence • Social institutions (e.g. family, school, church) and policies promote sexual abstinence among youth • Default on traditional sexual scripts, gender stereotypes, media, and peer expectations to guide their behaviors (Brown & Keller, 2000; Impett, Schooler, &Tolman, 2006) • Discussion: What are the disadvantages of relying on traditional sexual scripts, gender stereotypes, media, and peer expectations?

  6. Contradictory Cultural Messages • Traditional gendered sexual norms • Cast adolescent females’ sexuality as problematic and in need of social control (Bay-Cheng, 2003; Welsh et al., 2000) • “Good” girls stifle their own sexual interests and desires (Fine, 1988; Gavey, 2005; Holland, Ramazanoglu, Sharpe, & Thomson, 1994; Tolman, 2000) • Responsibility of being sexual gatekeepers and warding off sexual advances by men • Bombarded with messages about how they can (and should) solicit and satisfy male sexual desire • Women portrayed in media as passive sexual objects to ostensibly agentic sexual subjects: knowledgeable, sexy, and ready for sexual adventure (see Gill, 2008)

  7. Prior Research on Alcohol and Sexuality • Most have involved college students and have focused on perceptions of sexual risk (e.g. Lindgren, Pantalone, Lewis, & George, 2009; Norris, Nurius, & Dimeff, 1996; Vander Ven & Beck, 2009) • Role of alcohol in younger adolescents’ sexual risk behavior (Coleman & Carter, 2005) • Adolescent females reported greater sexual risk and regret than did adolescent males, yet they also felt that alcohol excused indiscriminant and unprotected sexual behavior

  8. Method • Focus group interviews are particularly useful for studying social norms within a subculture, in this case the youth subculture (Wilkinson, 1999) • Allow for relatively naturalistic opportunities to observe how youth make meaning through social exchange, as well as shift the balance of power from the researcher to the participants, giving participants a voice and shedding light on factors or processes that the researcher may not have previously considered (Morgan, 1996; Robinson, 1999; Wilkinson, 1999)

  9. Participants • 97 adolescent females, ages 14-17 years-old • Fifty-nine participants (61%) self-identified as White (non-Hispanic), 28 (29%) as Black (non-Hispanic), 5 (5%) Hispanic/Latina, 2 (2%) as Asian, 1 (1%) as Native American, and 2 (2%) as multiracial • Residing in medium-sized city in the northeastern United States • Participants were recruited from advertisements in local community newspapers • Eligibility requirements • Reside in same household as mother at the time of the study • Both mother and daughter agree to participate

  10. Results • Thematic analysis revealed four perspectives reflecting beliefs about the role of alcohol in sexual behavior • Facilitation • Alcohol could directly liberate young women through physiological effects of alcohol that lead to disinhibition • Excuse • Indirectly through the shared belief that disinhibition provides cover for what might otherwise be considered promiscuous behavior • Impairment • Diminishing a young women’s capacity to make good decisions or effectively stave off unwanted sexual advances • Vulnerability • Indirectly by holding her accountable, even in cases of forced intercourse

  11. Results • Overarching theme emerging from the data reflected a shared belief that alcohol had transformational powers capable of radically altering an individual’s personality, cognitions, and behaviors • “Alcohol makes you a different person. It make you do things that you never thought you would do, say things you don’t mean. It just all comes out. Can’t nobody stop you, but at that point everybody knows, ‘Oh, it’s alcohol that’s making her do this.’” –Member of 16 to 17 year-old group

  12. Sexual Advantages of Alcohol Use • Participants identified two primary advantages to drinking • License to pursue potential partners or engage in sexual activities (e.g. with a new partner) that would not be possible or acceptable under sober conditions • Alcohol facilitates the pursuit of social and sexual encounters and excuses behavior that violates perceived social and sexual norms

  13. Sexual Advantages of Alcohol Use • Facilitation • Increased confidence • A lot of times people think that whenever they’re drunk they can feel like they can do whatever they want. Usually, it kind of brings them out of their shell. Like, maybe they’re shy when they’re sober, but when they’re drunk they’re more open and they, like, interact with people better. –Member of a 14 to 15 year-old group • Overcome inhibitions associated with talking to adolescent males • Enable young women to overcome ambivalence about sexual involvement

  14. Sexual Advantages of Alcohol Use • Excuse • Participants also felt alcohol was liberating insofar as it could be used as an excuse for regretted sexual behavior • Expressed by 9 of 15 groups • Walk the fine line between being perceived as a “prude” and “slut” • No clear guidelines emerged on how to manage this dichotomy • Social repercussions viewed as more imminent that the threat of pregnancy or disease

  15. Sexual Disadvantages of Alcohol Use • Sexual risks associated with alcohol use were discussed more frequently than were benefits • Impairing judgment • Vulnerable targets for sexually aggressive males • Fine line between drinking enough to attain the social lubrication benefits of alcohol and losing control of the situation • “A lot of girls think it makes you sort of carefree. They just sort of feel it’s fun to drink, or whatever, but it’s fun until something bad happens, or until you get into an unsafe situation.” –Member of a 16 to 17 year-old group

  16. Sexual Disadvantages of Alcohol Use • Impairment • Risk of losing control and making poor choices about her sexual behavior • Sexual agency is jeopardized • “You’re not going to think logically like you normally would. You’re just going to think about the moment, and if some guy asks you, like the way alcohol may have an effect on you, you might just sleep with him and wake up the next day and regret it.” –Member of 16 to 17 year-old group

  17. Sexual Disadvantages of Alcohol Use • Vulnerability • Alcohol use amplified adolescent females’ vulnerability to sexually predatory and aggressive men • Expressed by 14 of 15 groups • “You can get taken advantage of a lot of times if you are a girl. Some boys are just kind of disgusting and they feel like that when a girl is drunk they can get what they want from her.” –Member of a 14 to 15 year-old group • Participants believed that adolescent males monitor and promote female intoxication with the expectation of obtaining sex • Females who do not wish to accede to males’ sexual expectations should not drink or take protective measures, such as friends watching out for each other

  18. Discussion • Alcohol use offers several sexual advantages to adolescent females • Facilitation of social and sexual encounters by increasing confidence and attracting attention • Dampens attention to risk • Deflects negative criticism that may be incurred following a regretted sexual encounter • Discussion: In your opinion, do these “advantages” reduce or promote sexual agency?

  19. Discussion • Developmental context • Integration of sexuality into one’s identity and development of intimacy are normal and critical developmental tasks of adolescents • Rely on feedback from social environment • Highly sensitive to social rewards (Steinberg, 2008) • Not surprising that themes related to forming social connections and garnering and maintaining peer approval emerge as primary advantages of alcohol use

  20. Discussion • Risks • Clearly aware of the risks associated with combining alcohol and sex • Drinking impaired young women’s judgment and decision-making ability with regard to sexual encounters • Increase susceptibility to various forms of unwanted sexual experiences • Adolescent males attuned to, attracted to, and encouraging of adolescent females’ drinking because it lowered ability to refuse sexual advances

  21. Discussion • Sexual assault • Participants held other women accountable for sexual assault if they have been drinking • Consistent with other research showing that women who are assaulted when under the influence of alcohol are viewed as being responsible for their own victimization (e.g. Parks et al., 1998; Young et al., 2007) • Higher level of self-blame

  22. Practice Implications • Results suggest that interventions aimed solely at increasing knowledge of the sexual risks associated with alcohol use are unlikely to be effective • Educational efforts may do better to teach adolescents skills needed to obtain social objectives, such as effective communication, development of healthy relationships, and negotiation of safe sexual interactions • Models and skills for promoting sexual health and well-being

  23. Limitations • Convenience sample was limited to adolescent females and their mothers who saw the advertisements in the local newspapers and were willing to participate in the corresponding groups • Although efforts were made to balance the racial and ethnic composition of each focus group, this did not always occur • Group setting makes it impossible to ensure confidentiality • Interpret results with caution due to small sample size and nature of group interview format

  24. Future Research • Use larger representative samples of adolescent females and individualized sources of data collection (e.g. surveys, interviews) to examine developmental changes in alcohol and sex-related perceptions and behavior over time • Include input from adolescent males • Consider the role of media on adolescent females’ perceptions of alcohol and sexual behavior and how media consumption influences adolescent sexual risk behavior • Better understand how current media affect those perceptions and the degree to which changes in media content could alter perceptions to foster healthier outcomes for adolescents

  25. Questions or Comments?